Football: Real win fifth game in a row to keep pace with Atletico

Real Madrid's Karim Benzema (right) celebrates after scoring the 2-0 lead. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MADRID (REUTERS) - A towering header from Casemiro and an added-time strike from Karim Benzema saw Real Madrid beat a stubborn Granada side 2-0 at home on Wednesday (Dec 23) to notch a fifth consecutive La Liga victory and go level on points with leaders Atletico Madrid.

The champions lacked sparkle in the first half but came alive in the second period and after a flurry of chances from the home side, Brazilian midfielder Casemiro powered in a cross from Marco Asensio to give them the lead in the 57th minute.

Real had been lucky to not fall behind in the first minute when Raphael Varane gave away possession and Roberto Soldado found Antonio Puertas, who sent his shot way over the bar.

Granada continued to trouble Zinedine Zidane's side deep into the second half until Benzema raced clear and thumped the ball low into the net to seal the points.

Real have 32 points from 15 games heading into a seven-day break from matches, level with Atletico who are top on goal difference and have two games in hand.

The victory also took Zidane's side six points clear of third-placed Real Sociedad and the title race looks more and more like being a two-horse race between the two rivals from the Spanish capital.

"We want to keep this great run going but we are also looking forward to a rest," said goalscorer Casemiro.

"There's still a long way to go in the season and many more games, and every team will have their ups and downs."

Madrid's Brazilian forward Rodrygo was carried off on a stretcher in the first half and his replacement Asensio almost put the hosts in front in the second half, conjuring an outrageous backheeled volley which struck the far post.

Play continued and Toni Kroos then fired a shot at Granada keeper Rui Silva, who saved well and also kept out the follow up shot from Federico Valverde.

But Real kept up the momentum and soon had the opening goal they craved when Casemiro showed his immense physical prowess to out-jump his marker and get on the end of Asensio's cross.

"The coach always wants the midfielders to get in the opposing area, he is always pushing us to do it," added Casemiro after scoring a fourth goal this season in all competitions.

"He tells me to be a balanced midfielder but to get into the box as much as I can because he says I'm good at heading the ball, so he'll be happy."

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